Having My Cake

by | Feb 18, 2009

This past week I mentioned a few times on Facebook that I was going out to eat. Once I mentioned something about meatballs, another time a burger and then fried chicken. The response from my friends was pretty uniform:


I can understand the confusion. I spend pretty much all my free time trying to convince my readers that eating more vegetables, legumes and whole grains, while cutting back on red meat and refined carbohydrates will help you lose weight, keep your heart healthy and stave off cancer. My recipes almost never include meat or dairy and, it’s true, I don’t eat much of these things (at least not compared to most Americans).

But I do eat pork, beef, cheese and cake, and I love them!

What really distinguishes my eating habits from a typical Western diet is the quantity and quality of the unhealthy foods I eat, as well as the quantity and diversity of the healthy foods.

As I have explained before, taste is a huge factor in what I decide to consume. I do not eat gross foods just because they are supposed to be healthy, and I do not deprive myself of foods that I love. Instead I have learned to cook myself healthy food that tastes amazing–food I would be proud to serve to friends and chefs alike. My method is to get the best ingredients I can get my hands on, and that involves seasonal shopping every weekend at the farmers market.

I have a similar strategy for less healthy foods.

When I do choose to eat meat, cheese or dessert I do so with the understanding that these foods are treats I cannot take for granted. And because I know they are not indulgences I can (or want) to make very often, when the time comes I make sure that whatever I am eating is unquestionably worth it. In San Francisco this probably means I’ll be having the best ______ I’ve ever eaten in my life.

I never waste my health or time on cheap junk food.

Besides excellent food there are occasionally other circumstances that give me valid reasons to stray off course. For example, once in a while an experience justifies making an exception. In these cases it can be more important to spend quality time with friends or loved ones than it is to have a balanced meal. No one likes a food snob, so when faced with a situation like this I just eat whatever foods I like, relax and enjoy myself. If the food happens to be unhealthy, I make some effort to not eat too much of it.

The reason I do not stress about these situations is because the biggest impact on your health comes from how you choose to eat most of the time, not what you eat some of the time.

Look at any of my grocery lists or recipes and you know that my diet consists of abundant fresh vegetables, legumes, fish, grains and fruit. This is why my cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, iron, body fat and pretty much any other health measure you can think of are so impressive (my HDL is higher than my LDL!). But I do still eat eggs, poultry and cheese on occasion, and sometimes even bread, sugar and red meat.

Most importantly, everything I eat is absolutely delicious and there is no question in my mind I can sustain these habits indefinitely. I never feel deprived of anything. I always feel healthy and nourished. And with the changing seasons, my meals never get boring.

But trust me, if I am really feeling the burger at Absinthe I don’t hesitate to go get me one.

  • Do you think there is room in a healthy diet for indulgences?
  • Is there room for health in an indulgent diet?
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15 Responses to “Having My Cake”

  1. Katie says:

    Great stories and background, Darya. Its good to know that at least you break down and eat unhealthy stuff too (even if there are a lot of caveats). I think for a lot of us though, our good intentions slowly morph into bad habits by letting the exceptions become the rule- I know thats what happens with me, and I just wish I didn’t have to regulate things so tightly. Maybe if I just came over to your house for dinner every night……

  2. Anonymous says:

    When was your birthday?! Happy 29th birthday!

  3. Darya Pino says:

    @KatieI don’t know if “break down” is how I would describe my own habits, I would prefer to call it perspective 🙂 But I understand what you’re saying, and hopefully this blog will help you get to where you want to be. A little planning and preparation can help you get through a lot of those tough decisions–it is harder to choose healthy food if there isn’t any around. I have a lot of great posts planned that should help with those things.—–@AnonHa ha, thanks! My birthday was a while ago, but the picture seemed so appropriate.

  4. Make Money Online says:

    * Is there room for health in an indulgent diet?Yes there is but very little. I would say if you exercise right, there is nothing wrong in eating sometimes something which could hurt a little.

  5. Darya Pino says:

    @Make Money OnlineExercise might keep the pounds off, but even if you exercise and are thin you have a greater risk of every disease without a healthy diet. Same goes for medications that are meant to control medical conditions. Something to think about…

  6. doug says:

    To me this gets to the entire psychology of the matter, which is probably as important to getting people to eat right as educating them about their options to do so.When you tell yourself “I shouldn’t do [Activity X],” you’ve just inserted activity X into your mind, and avoiding it becomes its own miserable activity. After a while your mind gets sick of the effort and finds a way to forget about it, leading to you continuing the banned activity.Obviously, telling yourself you have to do something you don’t want is a chore too, but this is why its important to find the healthy options that you GET to enjoy.If you are able to focus on the positive activity you don’t obssess over what you can’t do and it is easier. Fruit tastes as good as most candy or soda, and is much healthier. So focus on the fact that you are allowed to eat fruit. Same with bell peppers and other foods Darya writes about. If you are spending your time being happy that you get to enjoy these good foods, you will seek them out, all the while they are taking stomach space away from the unhealthy things.And then the activities you theoreticaly aren’t supposed to do aren’t as bad for you. So you don’t have to give yourself anxiety over them. So it is way more productive to focus on the things you like about your positive activities instead of obssessing about the downsides of negative behavior that you enjoy.When thinking about exercise if I think that I get to listen to music and get my blood pumping, I do it; if I think “I know it’ll suck but if you don’t do it you’ll die young” I stay home.Self-aware psychological framing is everything.

  7. Darya Pino says:

    @dougGreat perspective, thanks for the insight!!

  8. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc says:

    Darya,I have become a Pavlovian dog – drooling every time I check your blog. I must admit, albeit embarrassingly, I am a bit lazy when it comes to food preparation. How much time do you usually spend on a typical dinner prep?

  9. Darya Pino says:

    @PeterOn week nights I try for under 15 min. I’m ridiculously busy and always starving after my workouts, so I have little patience for extravagance. On weekends I might take a bit longer, for the foodie in me. My soups usually take 30-60 min, but that’s lunch all week.

  10. Nate @ Money Young says:

    Darya, love this post. I am the same way. I try to eat healthy but I don’t stress about it. I’ll drink soda if it’s offered, rather than making a stink about water, juice, or milk.Same with food. I LOVE cake though I know the frosting isn’t very healthy. So I don’t eat it unless someone else makes it. Hmm… It just occured to me Pie would be a great subsitute for Birthday cake… I think that’s what I’ll ask for this year is an Apple or perhaps cherry pie. Yum!-Nate

  11. Healthyliving says:

    I think you hit on the key, which is moderation. I guess its just important to truely make splurges like red meat and refined carbs the rare exception to your daily/weekly routine. For me, its important to be in the right mindset while food shopping otherwise I’ll buy a lot of bad stuff, then feel like I have to eat it. If I do buy stuff at the grocery store that is unhealthy, is it better to just throw it away? I go back and forth between eating it and throwing it away, even though I know that throwing it away would probably be the best thing to help me fit into my jeans…..

  12. Matt Shook says:

    The summarizing questions at the bottom really get to the heart of the issue here. Yes, I know that there is room for indulgences in a healthy diet. I do not have a “fast metabolism” or a hard time putting on weight…I actually put on weight quite quickly. I honestly believe adopting a healthy and diversified plant-based diet, when implemented as a long-term lifestyle change and not a temporary modification, can enable someone to feel great and also feel great while also occasionally indulging themselves. I eat a lot of really good high-quality dark chocolate…it’s high is fat, but it’s never affected my waistline. I also eat a lot of açaí and avocado…both are high in fat, but really healthy for you. These three can be considered “indulgences” but really they are regular components in my daily food consumption…and they taste fabulous.Good point about not wasting time, money, or calories on junk food…it really is trash any way you splice it.It’s funny, when I was a teen I used to eat a lot of flesh…mostly chicken, cow, and pig. One thing I noticed is that I became a far more proficient and creative cook once I adopted an herbivore diet. I was amazed at how interested I became in various types/styles of food…sometimes working with less can be more.@DaryaI really like the quick links you’ve added to the main page. It’s very useful to be able to click on recipes and see them all nicely lined up in order. Also, the food feed is pretty sweet…you talk the talk now ever can see you wok the wok. ;)Sorry the clementines didn’t work on the cereal…I feel partially to blame for that one. =(

  13. Darya Pino says:

    @NateThanks, I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Cake frosting is bad, but not that much worse than any other part of the cake. Pie is wonderful, but probably only slightly healthier.Enjoy :)—–@HealthylivingGreat question! When I have junk food I don’t want I just give it to my friends. Most of them will eat anything. Sharing those calories over many people makes them less bad for everyone!—–@MattThe fat in the foods you’re talking about is about as far from indulgence as you can get! Unsaturated fats are incredibly important for your health (I hate that The China Study glosses over this point). Good fat improves HDL cholesterol and supports cognitive function. It also adds to satiation and can actually contribute to eating less, despite the higher calorie density.The really bad calories come from sugar, white flour and animal products (saturated fat).That being said, obviously you can’t eat 4500 calories a day and expect to stay thin, no matter where the calories come from ;)Ha! There is a reason we use the word “spam”!!I also became better at cooking when I started eating more veggies and shopping locally. Necessity is the mother of invention!I have been asked repeatedly for easier navigation on my site, and the Quick Links was my quick and dirty way of getting it up here asap. My new site will be a joy to navigate, I promise!!For future reference, you can use the labels at the bottom of any post to see more posts with that label. FoodFeed is fantastic! Question for you: I can post a streaming list of my FoodFeed posts on my new site. Or I can just post my entire Twitter stream, which will include the many health/news stories I read each day but also some of my smart ass commentary on the world at large. Any preference?True that clementine experiment was inspired by you, but no need to feel bad! I love trying new things. It wasn’t gross or anything, just a little awkward to eat. I’ll keep trying and sooner or later I’ll have blueberries again 🙂

  14. MizFit says:

    IMO indulging is a necessary thing.partially so we dont feel deprived and go wild and partially, FOR ME, so that I eat junk and remember how it makes me feel (not so great :)).I always need both:the treat and the remiding.

  15. Matt Shook says:

    @DaryaI know that avocado and açaí fats are healthy…but I still consider them to be a bit of an indulgence since it’s important to eat them in relative-moderation.Okay, so after thinking a bout it a moment…I eat avocado, açaí, and chocolate regularly…almost daily…thus, it’s can’t really be an indulgence. You win.I noticed the labels at the bottom but for some reason I never felt compelled enough to click on them. Probably lameness on my part…Regarding your Foodfeed/Twitter dilemma…well, I think it may depend on who your “target audience” is. I’m all for sarcastic comments and smart-ass remarks, but some other folks may just want the health scoop. Interestingly, Natural News.com just moved all non-health related content to it’s sister site, CounterThink.com. I think they were getting some backlash for their overly-sarcastic political commentary. I believe that as I continue to learn more about a variety of subjects, the more I understand how they all are interconnected. This blog isn’t just about eating, it’s about lifestyle, localism, science, and a great many things…Now that I’ve made a short response long…I think you should post the entire twitter feed. 😉

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